A trio of attentive UW-Milwaukee students is gathered around cancer survivors working through a series of stretches and exercises. The students question and encourage them: “How did you feel after last week’s session?” “Are any activities bothering you?” “That’s 10 repetitions, you’re doing great!”
In the final semester of their doctorate of physical therapy program, the students are receiving hands-on experience by providing exercise, nutrition and mindfulness in the eight-week Cancer Care in the Community program at Elite Sports Club’s North Shore Glendale location.
The program – which helps cancer patients transition to regaining the strength, balance and energy needed to continue with their lives – is one of the many community offerings that are a hallmark of UWM, and a resource in the community.
Carlynn Alt, clinical associate professor, Integrative Health Care & Performance Unit, College of Health Sciences, leads the program, with Cheryl Boyd, adjunct faculty in physical therapy. Alt knows firsthand of cancer’s effects. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, in the midst of her doctoral program and wrote her dissertation on cancer-related fatigue.
“Evidence strongly supports that physical activity is essential in managing cancer-related fatigue, and improving health outcomes and quality of life,” Alt said. “While the urge may be to get more rest, the best intervention is exercise. We are helping cancer survivors get moving again so they aren’t so exhausted and have improved quality of life. Through this program, we’re utilizing high-quality, skilled providers to get cancer survivors physically active again.”
According to the American Cancer Society, 13.7 million cancer survivors live in the U.S., including everyone who’s ever had a diagnosis of cancer.
“We’ve created a community partnership that allows cancer survivors continued recovery that is low-cost, community-based and which offers high-quality support,” Alt said, adding that patients with serious health conditions might be apprehensive to begin an exercise program unassisted. “We’re meeting the needs of cancer survivors with a service that’s not offered by medical providers. Hospitals would like to provide this type of care, but the structure is generally not there to support it. There’s a gap in care, and our participants need this.”
Jane, a 66-year-old local breast cancer survivor who asked her last name not be used, said the program has helped in her recovery.
“I would never have gone into a health club and attempted this on my own,” Jane said. “I wouldn’t have felt safe. The luxury of having student physical therapists show me how to do each exercise and give me feedback is wonderful. UWM’s students and instructors are top-notch.”
In addition to learning to use exercise equipment and monitor their heart rate, participants learn strategic movements for their bodies, proper nutrition, mindfulness, yoga and other behaviors and techniques for health promotion. Two to four students work with each cancer survivor, instructing them on the proper way to do individually tailored exercise and stretches. These students determine the best exercises for each participant’s condition, observe their progress, and provide encouragement.
“The first time you work with actual participants, you learn how to explain things in a way they can understand,” said Kelly Nance, a student from Green Bay. “This program is such a win-win for students and cancer survivors. We learn how to develop a wellness program that patients can carry forward throughout their lives, and participants learn skills they may not have been able to on their own. It makes a difference in their lives.”
Cancer survivors in the clinic are often at different points in their recovery, which provides an added benefit. “It’s encouraging for participants in the earlier stages of treatment to see the successes of those who are further along,” Boyd said.
Alt said the doctoral physical therapy students who provide this highly specialized, individualized care are eager to put their years of classroom instruction into practice. They gain experience regarding which exercises and strategies work best, learn how to measure effectiveness and evaluate a patient’s success, and how properly instructing patients helps to prevent injury. Students also gain an appreciation of documentation for medical records, a tool that ultimately leads to better overall patient care.
While instruction from the students is free, participants purchase a $60, 60-day membership to Elite Sports Club to use the facility. The next session will be March through May 2016, with registration beginning in December 2015. For more information, contact Alt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Kris Sobczak
UWM’s impact locally and globally
The Cancer Care in the Community program is one example of outreach and engagement through which UWM affects communities and the world. Programs offered by the College of Health Sciences include:
- A Speech and Language Clinic that evaluates and treats children and adults with a variety of communication disorders.
- The Nutritional Sciences Program’s partnership with Milwaukee-based Sendik’s Food Markets to provide shoppers with nutritional facts of selected deli items.
- Working with the Milwaukee, North Shore, and Madison fire departments on a specialized program to advance firefighter performance and health.
- Students from health sciences and College of Nursing work in inter-professional education experiences as they develop sustainable health-related programs for classrooms of the Elaine Schrieber Child Development Center located within the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center.
- Students of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program work with Milwaukee County Transit Services to make recommendations regarding Paratransit services eligibility.
- An instructor from Occupational Science & Technology traveled to Haiti to volunteer as an occupational therapist and treat patients with spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy and other health concerns.